THE BEAUTY OF YOUR FACE by Sahar Mustafah is a complex story about Muslim identity and Islamic faith centered around a school shooting. As Afaf Rahman – the principal of a school for Muslim girls in the suburbs of Chicago – comes face-to-face with active shooter at her school, we are brought back through Afaf’s life to explore her family, her experience as daughter of Palestinian immigrants, and her religious journey.
There is a lot I enjoyed about THE BEAUTY OF YOUR FACE, but it felt like I was reading two separate stories smashed together in one book. The chapters focusing on Afaf’s life were spectacular. Her experiences are presented as both specific to her identity of Palestinian-American and Muslim as well as universal. Afaf and her family struggle with loss, discrimination, strained relationships, mental health issues, substance abuse in a way that many readers will identify with. Unlike the chapters about Afaf’s past, the sections about the shooter that were interspersed throughout fell flat. Though these chapters are very tense and emotional, I found myself wanting to get back to the heart and soul of the book: Afaf, her family, her community, her religion. The radicalization of hate against Muslim people is important to discuss, but the school shooting felt unnecessary to the main story.
The most memorable part of the story for me is the powerful depiction of Afaf’s hijab celebration. We get to see the importance of the hijab to Afaf, the meaning of the hijab in Islam, and the stigma and bigotry surrounding the hijab in a post 9/11 United States. The discussion of the hijab is so important and handled with great nuance, heart, and even humor – I loved when Afaf first wears her hijab at work and her 3rd grade students ask many well-intentioned though silly questions.
THE BEAUTY OF YOUR FACE is a moving story about family, identity, and faith. The story is well written and a vivid depiction of life in the US for a Palestinian-American. Though I felt the school shooting plot point was unneeded, overall all I found the book an enjoyable and eye-opening read.
W. W. Norton Company provided the book for honest review.
- Title: The Beauty of Your Face
- Author: Sahar Mustafah
- Published: April 7, 2020 (W. W. Norton Company)
- Genre: Fiction, Contemporary, Own Voice
- Booky Nooky Rating: * * * 1/2